Playoff success is a function of grit, determination, togetherness, and focus. One way to get a team to play together and remain focused is effective ball movement. Effective ball movement leads to assists and easy scoring opportunities.
When players dish out assists and help each other score the team generally plays with greater determination on both ends of the floor. When teammates help each other out and play together as a unit the team has a greater chance of success.
The top five assist leaders in NBA playoff history have dished out 7,361 assists during the postseason and have led the NBA in playoff assists 18 times. As a group these men have been selected to 51 All-Star Games. Three of them are members of both the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Here are the top five assist leaders in NBA playoff history (as of June 18, 2010):
5. Steve Nash (1,052 Playoff Assists)
Teams: Phoenix Suns (twice) and Dallas Mavericks
Even though he is on the wrong side of 30 Nash continues to be the motor that makes the Phoenix Suns run. The seven-time All-Star (2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010) won back-to-back regular season Most Valuable Player Awards in 2005 and 2006 and dished out the most assists during the playoffs in 2005 and 2006. Nash will become eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame five years after he retires.
3. (Tie) Larry Bird (1,062 Playoff Assists)
Team: Boston Celtics
Bird, his amazing passing skills, and his rivalry with “Magic” Johnson revitalized the NBA. The self-proclaimed “Hick from French Lick” beat out Johnson for the 1980 Rookie of the Year Award. Bird led the Celtics to three NBA Championships (1981, 1984, and 1986) and won two NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards (1984 and 1986). The 12-time All-Star (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991, and 1992) is one of only three players (Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are the others) to ever win three consecutive regular season Most Valuable Player Awards (1984, 1985, and 1986). “Larry Legend” was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996 and in 1998 he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
3. (Tie) Jason Kidd (1,062 Playoff Assists)
Teams: Dallas Mavericks (twice), Phoenix Suns, New Jersey Nets
Kidd will become eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame five years after he retires. The 10-time All-Star (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2010) shared Rookie of the Year honors with Grant Hill in 1995 and passed out the most playoff assists in 2002 and 2003.
2. John Stockton (1,839 Playoff Assists)
Team: Utah Jazz
Stockton delivered the basketball to Karl “The Mailman” Malone for the final 18 seasons of his 19-year career and together they formed one of the most formidable duos in NBA history. They executed the pick-and-roll so effectively that it was nearly impossible to defend. Stockton delivered the most playoff assists five times (1992, 1994, 1996, 1997, and 1998) and was named to 10 All-Star teams (1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2000). The all-time leader in regular season assists was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996 and inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.
1. Earvin “Magic” Johnson (2,346 Playoff Assists)
Team: Los Angeles Lakers
“Magic” was a magician with the basketball in his hands. His ability to deliver the basketball to the right teammate at the right moment was simply uncanny. Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA Championships (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988) and won three NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Awards (1980, 1982, and 1987). The 12-time All-Star (1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992) was named regular season Most Valuable Player three times (1987, 1989, and 1990). He led the postseason in assists nine times (1980, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, and 1991) and in 1988 he became the only player to dish out more than 300 assists (303) in a single postseason. In 1996 Johnson was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.
Click here for profiles of the top five rebounders in NBA playoff history.
Click here for profiles of the regular season top five assist leaders in NBA history.
Information from Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com: Encyclopedia, and NBA Universe.com was used for this article.